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The textbook model of the sensitive leading man, Oscar-winning actor William Hurt was a major player in 1980s cinema who was typically cast as a detached intellectual type and easily at his best playing characters who were physically or emotionally damaged. Reputed for his mercurial temperament both on and off the set, Hurt maintained somewhat of a contentious relationship with Hollywood for most of his career, but nonetheless came to attention opposite Kathleen Turner in the steamy "Body Heat" (1981), before standing out in the ensemble cast of Lawrence Kasdan's classic drama "The Big Chill" (1983). Following his breakthrough role as a flamboyantly gay window dresser in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985), Hurt was vaulted to the upper tier of Hollywood leading men. He earned more critical acclaim for "Children of a Lesser God" (1986) and "Broadcast News" (1987) before falling off the radar for a time with supporting roles in less-than-stellar projects like "I Love You to Death" (1990), "Mr. Wonderful" (1993) and "Michael" (1996). Bowing down to Hollywood as the star of the disappointing big screen adaptation of "Lost in Space" (1998), Hurt recovered with a brief, but Oscar-nominated performance in...
The textbook model of the sensitive leading man, Oscar-winning actor William Hurt was a major player in 1980s cinema who was typically cast as a detached intellectual type and easily at his best playing characters who were physically or emotionally damaged. Reputed for his mercurial temperament both on and off the set, Hurt maintained somewhat of a contentious relationship with Hollywood for most of his career, but nonetheless came to attention opposite Kathleen Turner in the steamy "Body Heat" (1981), before standing out in the ensemble cast of Lawrence Kasdan's classic drama "The Big Chill" (1983). Following his breakthrough role as a flamboyantly gay window dresser in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985), Hurt was vaulted to the upper tier of Hollywood leading men. He earned more critical acclaim for "Children of a Lesser God" (1986) and "Broadcast News" (1987) before falling off the radar for a time with supporting roles in less-than-stellar projects like "I Love You to Death" (1990), "Mr. Wonderful" (1993) and "Michael" (1996). Bowing down to Hollywood as the star of the disappointing big screen adaptation of "Lost in Space" (1998), Hurt recovered with a brief, but Oscar-nominated performance in "A History of Violence" (2005). With his wounded portrayal of a scientist grieving the murder of his wife on the second season of "Damages" (FX, 2007-2010) and his portrayal of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), Hurt cemented his reputation as a passionate artist more concerned with creating great roles than churning out "bland pabulum for the masses."
Born in Washington, D.C. on March 20, 1950, Hurt was the son of father, Alfred McCord Hurt, who worked for the U.S. State Department as the director of trust territories, and mother, Claire McGill. After her 1956 divorce from Hurt's father, McGill married Henry Luce III, son of Henry Luce, the legendary publishing titan and founder of Time, Inc. which churned out TIME, LIFE and later, Sports Illustrated magazines. Raised in a life of privilege, Hurt attended the Middlesex School, a posh preparatory academy in Concord, MA. Active and outgoing as a student, Hurt became heavily involved in high school drama, serving as Vice President of the Dramatics Club his senior year. Recognizing his potential for acting greatness, Hurt's yearbook staff predicted for him a bright future on Broadway. After graduating, Hurt headed off to Tufts University, where he briefly majored in religion, but it did not take long for him to find his way back to the stage. In the early 1970s, Hurt enrolled at the prestigious Julliard Drama School, where he studied alongside future "Superman," Christopher Reeve.
After extensive stage work with the Circle Repertory Company and the New York Shakespeare Festival, Hurt made his film debut as a scientist whose psychedelic experiments yield beastly results in "Altered States" (1980), a sci-fi/horror film directed by Ken Russell. Only a year later and seemingly out of nowhere, Hurt solidified his status as a leading man by co-starring opposite Kathleen Turner as the sexy, cocksure attorney, Ned Racine, in "Body Heat" (1981), a steamy, neo-noir suspense flick directed by accomplished screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan. Appropriately enough, for his follow-up to "Body Heat," Hurt went in the polar opposite direction to star in "The Big Chill" (1983), a masterfully crafted ensemble drama also written and directed by Kasdan. In the most subtly nuanced performance of his career, Hurt played baby boomer Nick Carlton, a self-absorbed psychologist drug dealer who faces a bittersweet reunion with his past.
But it was Hurt's gripping performance as the flamboyantly gay window dresser, Luis Molina, in Hector Babenco's "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985) that shot the actor into the A-list stratosphere. A harrowing tale of Molina's experiences while incarcerated in a Latin American prison, Hurt's portrayal won him top honors from BAFTA, the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awarded Hurt the Oscar for Best Actor in a Dramatic Performance. Hot off his win, Hurt's career reached its zenith with his next picture, "Children of a Lesser God" (1986), an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway play. In it, Hurt played James Leeds, a newly hired speech teacher at a school for the deaf, who, against his better judgment, falls for one of his pupils, Sarah Norman (played by real-life hearing-impaired actress Marlee Matlin). A commercial and critical hit, "Children of a Lesser God" earned 10 Academy Award nominations, including one each for both leads. While Matlin turned up a winner that night, Hurt wound up losing his statuette in an upset to Paul Newman for "The Color of Money" (1986). Still, all was not lost. Though Hurt did not win the award, he took home his own Oscar winner - namely, his "Children" co-star and live-in girlfriend, Marlee Matlin.
Still on a roll the following year, the actor made it three-for-three with his refreshingly comic turn in director James L. Brooks' "Broadcast News" (1987). In it, he played Tom Grunick, the dense but photogenic newscaster who finds himself wedged in a romantic triangle between neurotic TV producer Holly Hunter and the less camera-ready but smart reporter, Albert Brooks. The next year, Hurt returned to his well-worn "reticent everyman" persona to play the withdrawn, emotionally reluctant travel writer, Macon Leary, in another well-received hit, "The Accidental Tourist" (1988). Ironically, Hurt would be equally well known for roles that he did not accept. For instance, he passed on the part of author-turned-hostage, Paul Sheldon, in the excellent 1990 adaptation of Stephen King's "Misery" - a job which ultimately went to James Caan. Hurt also turned down a shot to star in one of the top box office champions of all time, Steven Spielberg's mammoth blockbuster, "Jurassic Park" (1993).
As he approached middle age, Hurt retained his sinewy physique, but his blond mane had visibly thinned. Ironically enough, the weathering effects of old age had a surprising effect on the actor. Wearing the scuff of time like a comfortable, tailor-made suit, Hurt made a clean transition to playing character roles. Bringing along his usual breezy intellectualism to such figures as Rochester in the 1996 remake of "Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre," Hurt hit the mark again as a cynical tabloid reporter who gets a visit from a supposed angel in Nora Ephron's "Michael" (1996). In the late 1990s, he returned to the world of sci-fi for the first time in 16 years with two back-to-back projects; the first being "Dark City" (1998), a muddled crime drama in which he played a corrupt police investigator, followed by the highly anticipated feature version of "Lost in Space" (1998). Hurt finally rounded out the decade with a standout performance as an impotent lawyer whose wife takes a lover to impregnate her in the 1998 weeper, "The Proposition."
With the dawn of the new millennium, Hurt continued to accept a diverse range of parts. Returning once again to the genre that started his movie career, Hurt took supporting roles in the Sci Fi Channel original miniseries, "Dune" (2000), followed by a role in the Steven Spielberg-Stanley Kubrick futuristic Pinocchio fable, "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" (2001). Hurt later appeared as the community patriarch and father of blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) in writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's tense, but disappointing thriller, "The Village" (2004). In 2005, Hurt made an unforgettable third act cameo in director David Cronenberg's masterful drama, "A History of Violence" (2005), a performance which showed off his villainous side. Using this dark angle to good effect, Hurt played another baddie in his next picture, the disturbing psychological thriller, "Mr. Brooks" (2007) starring Kevin Costner as a serial killer in rehab. This time, Hurt played the Marshall, sadistic alter ego of Costner's eponymous lead character, who rides around the city in Costner's car, egging the sadistic Mr. Brooks to kill again.
Because of his ability to perform in just about any capacity, Hurt continued landing a diversity of roles in films both big and small. In "Into the Wild" (2007), Sean Penn's acclaimed, but unfortunately ignored adaptation of Jon Krakauer's popular non-fiction novel, Hurt played the worried father of a young Virginian man (Emile Hirsch) who casts off the shackles of modern society to live off the land in Alaska, only to fall prey to Mother Nature. He next co-starred in the political thriller, "Vantage Point" (2008), playing the President of the United States, whose assassination in Spain is recounted differently by several witnesses, until the final shocking truth behind the attempt is revealed. He then co-starred in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), playing the nemesis of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, who heads the military machinery determined to capture The Hulk and exploit his power. Ever the busy actor, Hurt branched into series work, signing on to join the cast of the legal drama "Damages" (FX, 2007- ) for a season-long arc opposite his "Big Chill" co-star, Glenn Close. Hurt played Daniel Purcell, a brilliant, but disturbed scientist whose life and livelihood are put in jeopardy by the company he works for after he threatens to expose their criminal misconduct. His subtle and complicated performance earned him Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Emmy Awards and Golden Globes in 2009.
Hurt turned in a fine performance in the made-for-television movie, "Endgame" (PBS, 2009), playing a South African professor who befriends future president Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) during the secret talks that helped end apartheid. He next played the demanding 17th century father of a young nobleman (Daniel Brühl), whom he commands to break off his engagement with an older woman (Julie Delpy) in the period romantic drama, "The Countess" (2009). Hurt was cast by director Ridley Scott in yet another version of "Robin Hood" (2010), which starred Russell Crowe as the titular outlaw and Cate Blanchett as the Lady Marian. Hurt played real life soldier and statesman William Marshal, who faithfully served four kings to become one of the greatest knights who ever lived. Meanwhile, he returned to the small screen as part of the all-star cast of the made-for-cable movie "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), which chronicled the people and events involved in the 2008 financial meltdown. Hurt played former Treasury Secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson, who engineered a series of government bailouts with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti) in an effort to preserve the failed banking industry and in effect prevent a global economic catastrophe. Hurt's performance was hailed by critics and earned the decorated actor an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.
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CAST: (feature film)
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In 1988, Hurt became the first recipient of the Spencer Tracy Award presented by UCLA.
"[Hurt] was one of the most passionate, intelligent, mad people I've ever met in my life."---"Altered States" co-star Blair Brown to Premiere, October 1997.
"The most complicated man I ever met. Someone I would not want to live with again."---Marlee Matlin on William Hurt.
"I think it is an interesting and important ritual, the putting on of a mask. There's something sacred about it. The lights go out and the subject is considered by all together, it's a special moment, it's a special time. I respect that event. It doesn't seem to me that people are very good at understanding anything, and we're certainly no good at controlling things. We're not talented as a race that way. But we are remarkably sensitive creatures! We're unbelievably well designed witnesses, that must be our beauty. And we also have another ability, which doesn't seem to hurt anyone when it's done well or correctly, which is to express that."---William Hurt quoted by Susan Linfield in "Zen and the Art of Film Acting" American Film, July/August 1986.
"The mask is everything... I wish I could take huge physical risks in films. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" is about as extensive as I have been allowed to do in movies. I wanted to do twice as much in "Spider Woman". I wanted him to start out almost as a harpy, like a Medusa, then become a true queen. I had a whole physical idea in my mind, but I wasn't allowed to do it as flagrantly as I would have liked. I think I could have pulled it off believably, but it's really hard to get people to accept that."---William Hurt, interviewed by Don Shewey in "Caught in the Act" New York: New American Library 1986
"You have to create a track record of breaking your own mold, or at least other people's idea of that mold."---William Hurt quoted in The New York Times, September 1994.
From "Zen and the Art of Film Acting" by Susan Linfield, American Film, July/August 1986
Question: "What about Molina in 'Spider Woman'? That's a role that I think a lot of people would not have touched."
Hurt: "I can't understand why. To me it's much harder to be mediocre. My image is of a horse that wants to run, and the rider keeps pulling on the reins so hard that the horse's head gets turned in on itself. It's awful. It's a horrible thing to go through or do to an animal. It's happened to me. Because sometimes I feel like a horse. I want to run!"
"... in his soul [he] is a truly conflicted, turbulent human being. Not in the way lots of actors seek to be, because they find the notion of torment romantic. He is that, plain and simple."---Madeleine Stowe to Movieline, February 1998.
"Sometimes they get a little intimidated, but you just have to reduce that. You have to stop that. Your job is not to intimidate people, it's to prove your trustworthiness, and you do that by doing the best work you know how to do and by respecting them."---Hurt on how his craft and reputation affect other actors to Rarebirdsmovie.com, February 11, 2002.
"Sometimes people call me a success for all the reasons that make me think I'm a failure. Being famous is not something that would make me feel successful, unless one was striving for mediocrity. Being a father, being a friend, those are the things that make me feel successful."---Hurt to Tufts e-news, March 11, 2002.
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